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Cheryl Valerie's story

Cheryl attended a Melbourne public hospital for standard pre-natal care in the 1960s, when she was 17 years old. She was living at home with her family but in a relationship with her baby’s father, who she married after the child was born.

Doctors at this hospital and related clinics were involved in a large medical research program and ‘wanted to be the first in the world to find a cure for infertility, and the only way they could do that was to have models’.

During her pregnancy she was subjected to numerous invasive gynaecological examinations as part of this research and training, which entailed being examined by up to a dozen male medical students and doctors at a time. ‘You’d have to strip and you were put in stirrups.’

She explained that the attitude of the medical professionals was that ‘they believed that it was your punishment, you were being punished because you were single and you were pregnant’.

Cheryl was never asked if she consented to being examined by multiple people. These examinations happened ‘even if you kept saying “I don’t want this” or you refused it’.

‘They had no right to enter me ... I just can’t explain. And for a woman to explain men’s hands inside you, over and over, one moves out and the other comes in ... You weren’t even treated as a human being.’

These examinations were painful and distressing for her. ‘You weren’t a person anymore. It was your body they wanted. And it was the most heinous, barbaric crimes. I still feel it, you know, there’d be 10 or 11 or 12 men with their hands inside you ... And you’re pregnant, but they weren’t interested in that. Because they needed to find out the different ways the body was changing [for their research].’

Cheryl’s father went to the police ‘‘cause I’d go home and be crying’ and told them ‘look, this is what’s happening to her’. The police said that she must be in love with her doctor and making it up. ‘You couldn’t even get help from the police.’ This abuse and mistreatment ‘continued right through the pregnancy’.

‘And it continued when you were in labour. You were tied down in shackles, you were given all these types of drugs, you never seen your newborn baby. That baby was gone.’

Cheryl did not consent to the adoption of her child, who she did not see again for over 25 years. Additionally, she believes that as she had married the child’s father by the time this adoption was processed it legally should not have gone ahead.

In her 20s Cheryl required a hysterectomy as a result of the medical mistreatment she had experienced in her first pregnancy. When her specialist at the time saw her medical records ‘he just couldn’t believe’ what she had gone through. ‘It was just like an animal nursery, animal medicine.’

Cheryl ‘started to research’ what had happened to her ‘because I knew something was not right’. She was ‘very lucky’ to meet a psychiatrist who ‘really helped me through it, understood it all, what had happened, and really encouraged me to research it ‘cause something wasn’t right. And that’s why I became an advocate ... I’ve got the evidence. I know what they did’.

She now advocates for women with similar experiences to hers. ‘Can I be honest with you? I haven’t really worried about myself, because in lots of ways it’s all very private to me. I’ve been a spokesperson and [done] advocacy for hundreds of people and I’ve only ever worried about them.’

Still, the impacts of the abuse she experienced ‘are still so raw today’.

‘How do I cope with it? You do I suppose. Although at times, you can see it’s upsetting me now ... Because part of you died, they took part of you away that I can never get back.’

‘The medical sexual crimes inflicted on my body and spirit still haunt me – at times I need to shower to scrub the medical sexual predators’ handprints that still remain on my body and the internal pains I suffer as I relive the hands of 11 to 12 medical men over and over and over again inside my body without consent during each visit during pregnancy.’

When receiving a medical scan for an unrelated condition some years ago Cheryl was ordered by a doctor to get changed into a gown and experienced a flashback to the abuse. ‘All of a sudden the whole thing came out. I collapsed ... And they had to put me on Valium [to complete the scan] ... I’ve never had another one since. I’m supposed to but I can’t. I could not, it just brings it all back again.’

At the time she met with the Commissioner, Cheryl had not initiated legal action against the institution responsible for the abuse. She is not focussed on monetary compensation, but would like an apology from the medical profession for using women for experiments and as training tools without their consent.

Over the years she has had conversations with the institution but they have recently advised she get a solicitor if she wishes to continue pursuing this matter and she does not wish to do so. ‘I try to do it in a friendly way, just sit down and talk, ‘cause there’s got to be a resolution here. There’s no need to bring solicitors in.’

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